Leading politicians from the five main political parties outlined some of their policies and gave their own views on what needs to happen to the welfare system after the general election at an event organised by a coalition of charities.
The panel discussion, General Election 2015: Making Welfare Work, was organised by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a national coalition of more than 50 charities and organisations including Mencap, MS Society and RNIB, committed to working towards a fair benefits system.
The event was held against the backdrop of the DBC’s key asks for the next government, which reflect the issues and concerns facing disabled people and the commitments required from the next government to properly support them.
Chaired by The Guardian’s David Brindle, disabled people and their families questioned a panel of leading welfare and disability spokespeople from the five main political parties on what they will do to ensure disabled people get the support they need, when they need it.
The panel consisted of: Kwasi Kwarteng (Conservatives, Member of the Work and Pensions Committee 2013-present), Stephen Timms (Labour, Shadow Minister for Employment), Baroness Celia Thomas of Winchester MBE (Liberal Democrats, former spokesperson for Work and Pensions), Councillor Star Etheridge (UKIP, disabled spokesperson) and Marion Turner-Hawes (Green Party).
The politicians had a range of views and policies. For instance, Etheridge proposed to get rid of the work capability assessment (WCA) for Employment & Support Allowance, introduce accessible benefits forms, and increase carer’s allowance.
Meanwhile, Baroness Thomas proposed to get rid of the 20 metre rule in the WCA, improve training for disability employment advisors in Job Centres and better promote for Access to Work
Kwarteng proposed to prioritise reducing delays in Personal Independence Payments (PIP), while Turner-Hawes said the Green Party would invest £1 billion into Disability Living Allowance/PIP, double carer’s allowance and abolish the bedroom tax.
Timms also proposed abolishing the bedroom tax, reforming the WCA, and reducing delays in PIP.
Disabled members of the audience and their supporters raised a plethora of issues with the candidates, including the negative impact of the assessment process for disability benefits, inappropriate sanctions, where reductions in welfare budgets will come from and ideas around starting education about attitudes towards disabled people in schools.
For instance, Ciara Lawrence (pictured, at a previous event), who has a learning disability and works for Mencap, asked: “According to the DBC’s Big Benefits Survey, 13% of disabled people have been victims of hate crime because they claim benefits. There have been 124,000 disability hate crimes in the last two years. Can you name one thing that your party will do to improve the way that society talks about benefits and disability?”
James Bolton, co-chair of the DBC, said: “[This] event saw disabled people demanding a fairer benefits system.
“With our combined knowledge, experience and direct contact with millions of disabled individuals and carers, we know that the system is not currently up to task. It is failing to adequately meet the needs of many disabled people who rely on it.
“This must change. Alongside millions of disabled people, their families and carers, we call on all political parties to commit to our recommendations and help ensure that disabled people can get the support they need when they need it.”